In the late afternoon yesterday, a tremendous spring thunderstorm rolled in, as all my greenhouse plants were outside, basking in the heat of the day. At first, as the rain fell, I could see them coming to fuller life within minutes, and I was so glad to see them being rained on.
But then, the hail arrived.
I yelled “move!” to Ian, and we ran to rescue them and bring them back under the shelter of their greenhouse. Around 500 plants, some of which are now large pots with tomatoes and greens, had to be carried in as hail balls pelted us and the rain fell.
All plants were saved.
This time of year on a farm offers so much contact with weather and with life. And with the vulnerability of life. It keeps me on my toes. If we hadn’t moved fast, we would have lost months of effort, and also would have wondered where the food was going to come from in the winter.
Today, in the midst of lots of time with my children, I was able to offer nearly a combined two hours to my medicinal, edible, perennial bed. As my hands worked in the soil, touching worms, and feeling the satisfaction of having started so many perennials from seed, I found myself singing some of the music from my (currently on pause) Hildegard von Bingen album.
"I welcome all the creatures of the world with grace."
"You were planted in my heart at daybreak, on the first day of creation."
"God is the good, and all things which proceed from God, are good."
I would certainly call those revelations!
I have known for a long time that God needs to be bigger than our current (and future) cosmology, and correspondingly, that our level of defensiveness ought to shrink, (and our humility ought to grow), in proportion to how vast the mystery of universe is, as it unfolds to us.
But there is also something to be said about our connection and comprehension to the microscopic universe, which takes place in our bodies, our soil, through the communication of trees, fungi, and the systems that support life all around us.
We’ve focused so much on God needing to be big enough, that we’ve often failed to see how small God also needs to be, if we claim incarnation as one of our foundational beliefs. One raindrop. One blade of grass. One microorganism among billions, in one handful of healthy soil. One act of photosynthesis. A single compulsion of pelvic muscles, merged with will and passion, holding steady, or thrusting, to match the power of a birth contraction.
I haven’t visited The General Dance in awhile and thought it would be a good exercise to listen to it with the microscopic in our hearts.
In this piece, James Finley reads one of the finest excerpts contributed to Christian literature in the 20th Century, (from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation).
My personal intention for this piece was to celebrate true embodiment… my own body… your own body… all the way out to the inspirited nature of the universe... and then back again, into the inner and outer connectedness of each created thing. Our thin, but precious outlines of particularity, (offering mutuality), that get to express in concert, the whole manifest nature of our great Lover.
The glorious and painful music of life itself.
I long to know what it might feel like to be infinitely free, even in this body. Especially in this body.
I long to fail and to fall into the Infinite Arms... and laugh, as I comprehend what James Finley calls the "infinite irrelevance of attainment and nonattainment". Because let's face it, at least half the time, I struggle deeply to "throw my awful solemnity to the wind."
Any of the brief glimpses of that freedom I have had, are what I try to hold a fidelity to, in the midst of all my failings. And remembering another great line from James Finley helps me to laugh at myself... again...
"the poverty of the practice, is the richness of the practice."
Shucks. So much for my awful solemnity.
Until the next moment, when it returns.
As you listen to this song, try and not only imagine the "out there", but remember the small. The medial. The ordinary. And imagine all of it dancing, by God!
Lew Welch's words come to mind:
Step out onto the planet.
Draw a circle a hundred feet round.
Inside the circle are 300 things nobody understands,
and maybe nobody's ever really seen.
How many can you find?
Last week was spent saving our cow, Lady Susan’s life. Around the clock, under the full moon, she and I toiled and bonded to bring life back into her.
This week, she lost her wee beautiful heifer, who we called Rosie, and buried near our garden. It was a tender experience.
Lady Susan is doing well. Her vitality increases by the hour, and now that we have all the foreign debris out of her (that she no doubt ate as a young curious heifer on the large dairy farm she was born on), she has a new lease on life. I love to see her saucy spunk back.
We are putting in the garden this weekend… enough food to feed our family for the long winter. A massive, but very satisfying job.
As we approach Pentecost... just two weeks away, I wonder what is being made new amidst the upheaval and confusion. What is the Mystery up to, even as it "suffers with"?
In the meantime, I want you to hear an unmastered portion of my version of If It Be Your Will by Leonard Cohen, which will be on the new album, Hymns From the Icons.
I was hoping for a May 27th release, but what is interesting about new models taking shape in lieu of the way “things have always been done”, is that: you are on this journey with me, and I am on this journey with you, and because my beautiful Jersey milk cow was sick, I couldn’t record music at the same time. There’s something organic and beautiful about how this is unfolding … not constantly basing all that we make on “efficiency” and “productivity”.
I know what it feels like to be a “product”. To walk on stage with a horrible cold, perhaps even mourning the death of someone, or in a state of forsakenness, and trying to pour myself out, so ticket buyers don’t feel cheated.
We are so accustomed to impersonal connections when it comes to exchange that we tend to speak or write in short and demanding ways, especially when it comes to customer service. In the wake of the covid-19 shutdown in India, millions of people who sat in dire conditions receiving our phone calls for customer support, left in a mass exodus from New Delhi and other cities, for their small towns. Mostly on foot. Some of them were sprayed with bleach as they were walking. Many of these people already suffered the brunt of Western entitlement over the phone as we demanded a refund, or they stitched an article of clothing for us, as we demanded it to be cheap. As though someone with an accent is an automation or a sewing machine. And don't get me started about why these people had to leave their village in the first place.
So, normally, I stress out and experience Western shame when I don’t reach my set deadlines, but what if Life is mysteriously at work inside of this creation? And although I have to “package” it for it to reach your ears, maybe what is happening is that this album is becoming a creation, instead of a product. And maybe I am continuing to evolve out of the trauma of being an object, and morphing into a being, who shows up for the work at hand, and is continuing to be sculpted with Sensual Hands, into an ever-opening channel of life.
My prayer is that you sense yourself as a surrendered channel of organic occurrences that draws our awareness nearer to the great One Life.
"Achieving energy" is so valued in our culture, but often at the cost of really ever being.
It’s a very long story filled with very smelly, intense, "too much information", but this week our Jersey cow, Lady Susan, nearly died due to a condition called frothy bloat. The vet did a procedure called a rumenotomy, and I have just spent 4 days and nights doing things I never would have dreamed of... including finding foreign debris that I slowly but surely was able to pull out of the area the vet made in her rumen.
She was born on a 7000+ dairy lot in North Dakota, and eventually made it to a nice little dairy farm near here. But when cows are young, they’re very curious, just like children. If they can find it, they may put it in their mouth. I pulled out long, large, clear plastic bags, webbed and knotted ropes of twine, more plastic, rubber coated copper wire, and two very acidified, hard things that I could tell were leather gloves. During this time, she was given very good pain medication, so although it was traumatizing, her pain was minimized.
Ever since we got her, we tried to put weight on her and baby her with organic hay and treats. Nothing worked. Four days ago, it was looking like we may need to euthanize and try to save her calf. I went deep ... sort of became a Pelagian witch doctor ... did healing energy work and prayer... and released any possession of her that I felt, surrendering her to the great One Life... and then told her stories of how good her body will feel now if she could get up... and... eventually she got up! She’s eating and her whole system is working. I’m still at it, giving her mixtures if molasses, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, spruce tip tea, and water. She’s eating delicious hay and drinking water and all of it is moving through her.
She’s still low energy after all the trauma, but we’re hopeful that this member of the family and of our burgeoning ecosystem is on the mend.
I was already a locavore before this happened, but as I massaged her in the middle of the night, and talked to her, and loved her, a very profound awareness of being a participant in the great circle, came to me. No pyramids... but a circle of humility and life... and that none of the food we eat, should be just "a product". There is more to all of this than spread sheets of functioning, or not so functioning. That we ourselves should not be a product or a cog, but a wild participant in this beautiful, uncontrollable Life. And that if I am at all able, when I die, my wish is to be composted on this land, so the herds that graze here in the future can eat the grass my body sustains, as it becomes soil.
We are like the grass.
I feel the presence of Angels... and plant me here.
It was Gary Snyder's 90th birthday yesterday, so I'll leave some quotes of his here in honour of him and his work, and my burgeoning, inner curmudgeon ...
"Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility."
"As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth... the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. I try to hold both history and the wilderness in mind that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalanced and ignorance of our times."
"Nature is not a place to visit. It is home."
"The other side of the sacred is the sight of your beloved in the underworld, dripping with maggots."
(The photo above was taken this morning!)
This week you can listen to a brand new mixed track from my upcoming album Hymns From the Icons. An album of cover songs that have a spiritual undertone that are also popular.
Here's a sneak peak - listen to a brand new version of The Call's Uncovered below.
For a remarkable resource on helping out with local resiliency during Covid-19
Americans - check out this land reparations map led by, and for, black and indigenous farmers - now is the time to show you acknowledge the history that caused the imbalance of land ownership. Some people on this map are asking for support for equipment purchase, and others have a mobile farm and are looking for a way to purchase land. This is one of my favourite initiatives in America.
I have been recording mini concerts this weekend for my Patreon supporters, and was prompted to share them all here.
I was also prompted to share my song Holy Fool, that I wrote 2 years ago, when Easter Sunday landed on April Fool's Day. To watch it on facebook, click here.
To listen to these mini concerts on my podcast, click here
This week is a recording of some reflections on the times plus a song that decided to resurrect and take on new meaning.
You can listen to it below, or follow my podcast, by clicking here.
After nearly a week of fasting from the internet, I have a new chant for you that came to me today.
I have spent the afternoon chanting in the round to offer you not a balm, but a Reality.
Richard Rohr often says that "Paul was a mystic". Most of his language is heard at the wrong level, and therefore misused by some, and passed over too quickly by others. But there are some nuggets there to be sure. (He met the mystical Christ on the road to Damascus, for starters).
Whether I live or die, I am the Lord's.
Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
This message from Romans isn't about the promise of heaven.
It is about a living reality.
When I hear this line, I think of James Finley's wonderful words from our Point Vierge album, (Thomas Merton's Journey in Song), when he says,
"As intimacy deepens between two people, it can deepen to a point, at which they mutually disappear as dualistically other than each other. Neither one can find the place where one stops and the other begins, and they're not inclined to try. So, that point, that Zero Variance, or that point of the overcoming of otherness, is a point of solitude, because there's no observer there, to take notes on it. In a way, Merton is talking about this "transubjective communion", in which we, and God, and we and others, and we and the earth, all start disappearing, and otherness is overcome. This is why, when people die, they don't go anywhere. When we die, we disappear. We don't see the dead, for the same reason we don't see God. There's no more otherness, between themselves and this Infinity. And since they don't go anywhere, we're all right here.
Thomas Merton once wrote: "where do candles go, when they go out? If the question fills me with an alien chill, it gives witness to my heart, that I have not begun to understand the resurrection."
Use these lines if they are helpful, as you navigate how to be in these strange times. I don't send this line "whether I live or die, I am the Lord's" to you as a "promise of heaven" in the strict sense of escapism, nor even a way to calm ourselves about our own mortality... but more as an incarnate reality that can shine out quietly, like "the music of the spheres", into the disquieting "quiet" of these times. What if we were to use this chant to weather this storm, this Great Turning, this Ordeal, with total, deep down, presence, when all too often, spiritual people have been notorious for being the great escape artists.
I am seeing less airplanes in the sky, but around Christmas time, we were doing a night walk as a family, and I saw about 60 perfectly spaced, recently launched satellites polluting my vision, as I tried to exercise my God-given right to see the stars in all their glory.
I am glad I get to send you songs, but I wonder what price we will pay for tech connection, that seems to have come with the loss of the deep, lateral connection, our ancestors had with this earth. My personal prayer is that somehow the Mystery of Where We are Going is going to include a Second Naiveté with the lateral powers of the "Christ-soaked" natural world (including ourselves).
We are in deep preparation for spring, here in the north, so of course, as the tree's sap warms, and the buds show signs of waking, and our cow gives more milk, and I say hello and tend to nearly 500 plants every morning, I get (perhaps too) preachy about how often we forget this greening beauty, Earth, even as we claim we want her to live, or want to "save" her.
I just finished a novel where a Palagian was drowned by other Christian monks, for heresy. And I wondered if the Palagian found God in the water, even as those who would separate God from all this wonder, used that water only as a useful object, to violently silence him with.
Well, drown me as a heretic, but I'm in love with what God has made for us to be in love with, and in love with God, who is inseparably interwoven with all of this. I don't fall too far from the tree... my dear grandmother's favourite hymn was I Come to the Garden Alone... and I'm pretty sure, deep down, she sometimes wished she could be tarrying in her garden, sharing the joy of it with God, on Sunday mornings.
Lastly, more context for this chant can be understood in the words of Simeon the New Theologian,
We awaken in Christ’s body,
As Christ awakens our bodies
There I look down and my poor hand is Christ,
He enters my foot and is infinitely me.
I move my hand and wonderfully
My hand becomes Christ,
Becomes all of Him.
I move my foot and at once
He appears in a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous to you?
–Then open your heart to Him.
And let yourself receive the one
Who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body all over,
Every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy as Him,
And He makes us utterly real.
And everything that is hurt, everything
That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
Maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged
Is in Him transformed.
And in Him, recognized as whole, as lovely,
And radiant in His light,
We awaken as the beloved
In every last part of our body.
As all of you are facing what you are facing where you are, I have two offerings for you. One is a video I made that talks about the importance of the words we invoke at this time. And the other is the podcast... where I performed a mini concert for you.
I want to reiterate to you, that you are in my heart, and honestly, I have listeners all over the world. If you need help or supplies, I might know someone near you.
To listen to my mini concert click here.
I am starting the plants for my garden this year, with deeper reverence, than is even usual.
For the seeds.
For the soil.
For the water.
For this body, and the bodies I am entrusted to feed and protect.
James Finley has this teaching, where he suggests that everyone hold their breath for about 5 minutes, and then exhale. Quite quickly, everyone realizes the teaching.
That every breath is a gift.
The average amount of days any of us have are just over 27,000.
27,000 days. The blink of an eye.
I have already lived 14,845 days.
Being in the material world… being matter… makes us vulnerable.
Our days are like grass. We bloom like a flower in the field. The wind passes over us, and we vanish, (Psalm 103).
Is this at least part of what it means to “consider the lilies of the field”?
Fear causes us to hurt other people. Even at the best of times.
We too often fail to realize that all of this is a gift.
That we come from gift and are returning to gift.
And we live this great gift out in such fear, that fear is perhaps living our lives more than we are.
Experiencing rejection, especially as children, makes us feel even more vulnerable, and can heighten our fight or flight senses.
In the song I Believe You, the children’s choir sings “I believe you” to the voice inside of us, that says what it says.
Initially the grown up voice in the song sings, “I cannot abide you”.
The child says, “I believe you”.
As we move through these days with a media hyper-focus on the coronavirus, we can get caught up in the frenzy of seeing all others as merely unsafe. We can “not abide” others. We can become untrusting, and so afraid, that we fail to see how vulnerable we are at any given moment.
This is not to say we shouldn’t take precautions. I think precautions are smart.
As someone who participates in growing food for her family, and regardless of pandemics, puts significant effort into building the immunity systems of her family, I oscillate nearly every day, between what resiliency looks like, amidst what it also looks like to live close to vulnerability. Meaning, I don’t want my sufficiency to make me hardened… I want it to deepen the softening of what it means to live in the preciousness of my, and others, fragility.
As I have gone through this series, I have consistently been trying to expand personal healing into the Big Story. This song is no exception. Especially at this time.
What does it mean to trust, that we are precious in our fragility?
What does it mean to live as though we believe that we are a part of a great, deeply trustworthy mystery?
How do we exercise wise caution, but also not get obsessed, or treat others with disrespect?
Fighting over toilet paper ought not to be the great Opus of our time, even if it is what we feel we have control over.
When the book of James references Psalm 103, it adds that a rich man should exult in his low position because he will pass away like the flowers in the field.
That the rich man will fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
And in 1 Peter, it says “all flesh is like grass”. This is why I've never really understood the pursuit of power. Unless being memorable however you have to be, is what you feel makes you "immortal". (For instance, when I haven't really been present with my small children, they act out to try and get my attention... perhaps this is what is happening with all oligarchs?)
When we begin to sing the lines “you are precious in your fragility”, and “you are unbearably beautiful” to ourselves, and to each other, and to this planet... that inner child in each of us will sing out,
“I believe you”.
May we respond to all that lies ahead with this preciousness, for each other, and for our planet.
Find your feet, rooted in the gift of life itself. You are dust and to dust you shall return, but that dust is here because of Love... so also... you come from Love and to Love you shall return.
And... speaking of roots and seeds and the preciousness of life... I encouraged a number of you to support Randy and Edith Woodley's (Eloheh- Indigenous Centre for Earth Justice), land purchase this past fall, and they are still working at it... with some really crucial fundraising going on right now. If you reside in the US and are planning on buying seeds for your garden, I highly encourage you to purchase your seeds from Eloheh Farms! The seeds are rich in heritage and you will be supporting very beautiful work.
Here are all of the essential links for bringing support to their important work:
Read more about who they are and what they do: https://www.eloheh.org/
Purchase Randy's brand new book entitled Decolonizing Evangelicalism -
Buy their seeds! - https://elohehseeds.com/
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.